Blog:  The Inside Track

What It Took for a Dyslexic Kid Like Me to Love Books

The Inside Track blog post by Ben Foss
Sep 15, 2014

Teen girl doing homework with headphones

For me and others with dyslexia, reading is like having a bad cell phone connection to what’s on a printed page. Information drops out. I can’t access the content. But when I listen to a book on tape or on a talking computer, it’s like having a landline. I connect just fine and most everything is clear.

Think of it like this: Mainstream readers “eye read.” People who are blind use Braille and “finger read.” I “ear read.”

When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to understand the joy of reading. This desire quickly turned into a deep sense of shame. I assumed my slow “eye reading” must have been my fault. I blamed myself for not trying hard enough. I did my best to pretend I wasn’t struggling. I wanted everyone to think I was “well read.” I even won a local bookmark-making contest! But all of my energy was spent hiding who I really was.

In spite of my challenges, I managed to do pretty well in school. Eventually, I ended up studying law at Stanford University. It was there that I started using services like Bookshare and Learning Ally. These services allowed me to get audio versions of books I needed to read. This was a big change. Finally, I could devote all of my energy to what I was reading instead of how I was reading.

My experience was so inspiring, I went on to work as the director of access technology at the Intel Corporation. There I invented a product called the Intel Reader. This product could take a photograph of any printed material and then read it aloud on the spot.

The response was very positive. I saw that fancy technology could be hugely helpful for people with dyslexia. Still, it couldn’t get rid of the loneliness that comes with being shut out of books. Or the shame of struggling to read a menu.

I realized that in order to address the emotional challenges of struggling to read books, I had to write one. I used all the skills I’d mastered, including talking to a computer and having it write down what I say. I produced a 300-page book published by Random House.

My wonderful parents helped me through a very tough time when I was young. I wrote this book to help other parents help their kids.

As an adult, it’s strangely thrilling to see your name over the door to a fancy building that you were barred entry to as a kid. I feel that way about having my name on a book that I’ve written. I want to welcome parents in, so their kids with dyslexia won’t get turned away from the joy of reading. If we all work together to build ramps and ease access—rather than blame children for not measuring up—we can help them walk confidently into the world of words and even learn to love them.

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About the Blogger

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Ben Foss is dyslexic and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a national organization for dyslexic adults and parents of dyslexic kids.


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